The Gotcha Effect of Civil Unions

Now that we've all recovered from the jubilation of last week's victory, is it too soon to launch a couple of sober criticisms at our president elect? I did my part to ensure victory, after all. I sent my campaign check. I wept tears of joy into my beer, a Sixpoint "Hop Obama" Ale no less, while watching the acceptance speech. I cheered like a star-stricken tween at the sight of Axelrod.

But when I reflect on the campaign, I must confess to feeling a little empty after watching Proposition 8 pass last week in California. Suddenly, the exuberant chorus of millions harmoniously singing "Yes We Can" became dissonant, as a slim majority of California voters belted out a tone-deaf retort of "No You Can't" by endorsing this boneheaded ballot. My high school chorus teacher would've covered her ears at the cacophony. My high school gym teacher would have too, because, well, she was gay.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Californians voted to overturn same-sex marriage. But it is disheartening that they're getting all the blame. After all, by collectively rubber-stamping the Obama campaign's "politically safe" pro-civil unions stance, democrats were inadvertent enablers.

Consider, for example how unfriendly the Obama camp was to same-sex couples during the Biden/Palin debate:

GWEN IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?
BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.....
PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.
IFILL: Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy.

I don't remember if Palin winked for effect, but I'm assuming she didn't. She'd already knocked it out of the park. This could have been the "gotcha moment" the drooling, caddish pundits had so eagerly awaited. But since America long ago concluded that no candidate in his/her right mind could ever confess to supporting gay marriage, it failed to deliver. Instead, the "gotcha" intended for Biden came at the expense of same-sex couples striving for what the Constitution promises: equal rights.

Of course, Biden was simply echoing the platform of his boss. Obama has stated unequivocally that "marriage is a union between a man and a woman." It's a disappointing assertion made by a politician who promised "hope" but instead bought into the antiquated, Rove-era truism that supporting gay marriage is political suicide. It's a disappointing assertion that most of us chose to ignore.

Complicating the issue, common sense tells us that Obama (and likely Biden) would both confess in moments of candor -- after their security team had checked the room for bugs, of course -- to being supporters of same-sex marriage. Still, liberals collectively allow those who represent them to cower behind the cynical rhetoric of civil unions. It's a wink-wink relationship that's, at best, patronizing to same-sex couples and, at worst, reminiscent of the discrimination that occurred under this country's separate but equal laws.

Last week, the repercussions of this "politically-savvy" rhetoric played out as the legality of same-sex marriage was shot down in California. Inspired by the candidacy of Obama, African-Americans showed up in record numbers. This was fantastic news for the Obama campaign, but it didn't fare too well for gay rights advocates. Seventy-percent of African-American voters in California voted in favor of Proposition 8.
"I'm thrilled that we've just elected our first African-American president," wrote Dan Savage in response to the news, "but I can't help feeling hurt that the love and support aren't mutual... The African-American community has a problem with homophobia that needs to be confronted."

While Savage certainly has a point, blaming the African-American community for the passing of Proposition 8, is like blaming Ralph Nader for the Bush presidency. It's too simplistic. Clearly, we're all to blame for failing to push those who represent us into coming out of the closet in support of gay marriage.

Still, nearly every gay marriage-supporting liberal I spoke with prior to the election rationalized that Obama's endorsement of civil unions was sound since it was arrived at by prudence.

"He has to say he supports civil unions if he wants win," they insisted.
It's an argument that's logical, but unethical, if you believe marriage is a basic human right.

Others argued that pushing too hard for marriage would backfire. "We can't move too quickly," they insisted, worried the gay rights movement could lose its footing.
This argument is flawed too. Who's to say that supporting civil unions won't stymie same-sex marriage by setting an unsavory legal precedence. We shouldn't be promoting legislation that equates being gay with being "different."

But perhaps the most cynical argument is that gays will inherently be better off with a Democrat in office than they would be with a Republican. Why should homosexuals have to settle for better treatment instead of equal rights? Haven't they been persecuted enough? It's the 21st century. We're all adults. Yet we're regressing to the mentality of a prepubescent schoolyard bully who gives his victims the choice between a full-fledged ass kicking and a wedgie.

If the 2008 presidential election proves anything, it's that people are tired of fighting the tired boomer era culture wars. A new generation is here and -- unlike your NRA-supporting grandpa who fostered a secret crush on Michael Landon -- a growing number of them are okay with same-sex couples sharing the ultimate bond. Sure, plenty of Americans, young and old, would never vote for a candidate who supported gay marriage. But these people would have never voted for a black man with the middle name Hussein either. And let's cut to the chase, Obama won the popular vote by 7 points -- a margin way too big to be spoiled by a handful of homophobes who get queasy watching Will and Grace.

As we reflect on the 2008 election, Obama's moving speech on race will surely be seen as a turning point for his candidacy. As Jon Stewart pointed out Americans were, for once, treated like adults. I voted for Obama, but I can't help but hope that he'll deliver one more eloquent speech on a topic that divides this nation. Equal rights for all people. It would be a controversial speech. Axelrod would be wary. The pundits slack-jawed. But if anyone possesses the oratory flair to pull it off, it's Obama.